Forestalling the next plague: Building a first picture of all diseases afflicting people and animals in Africa

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya

An ILRI-Wellcome project is investigating the disease pathogens circulating in both people and animals in the communities outside the border town of Busia, Kenya, where smallholders mix crop growing with livestock raising (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

A project funded by the Wellcome Trust on zoonotic diseases was broadcast last week on an Australian television program called ‘Catalyst’. The show ran on Thursday, 10 March 2011, at 20:00 Australian time. The research described in the program is supported by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where the project’s principal investigator, Eric Fevre, is hosted.

The television program interviews Fevre and his colleagues Lian Doble, a veterinarian managing laboratory work in western Kenya, and  Appolinaire Djikeng, technology manager of a Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, located on ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, campus.

Fevre and Doble and their team are investigating what disease pathogens of both people and animals are circulating near the border town of Busia, a very poor, densely populated area whose communities mix crop growing with livestock raising on small plots of land. Research such as this that is looking at both human and animal diseases is rare but urgently needed because the close relations of people and farm animals in many poor regions, as well as the existence of monkeys and other wildlife nearby, is a ‘recipe for diseases’ jumping from animals to people. If we’re going to manage to forestall another zoonotic plague such as bird flu or HIV/AIDS, we’re going to have to conduct more of such ‘one health’ investigations that look at exactly what diseases are being transmitted between animals and people. The research project in western Kenya is part of a larger study being conducted by the BecA Hub to look at diseases of animals and people across eastern Africa. The BecA Hub team is using genomics and meta-genomics, and ‘4 million bucks of computing power,’ to build a picture of the complex relations of disease pathogens circulating in the region.

Eric Fevre and pit latrine in Busia, Kenya

Eric Fevre, who leads the ILRI-Wellcome project investigating the disease pathogens circulating in both people and animals in Busia, points out a pit latrine frequented by pigs as well as people, where disease transmission between the two species is most likely to occur (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

A transcript of the Australian television program on this research follows.

NARRATION
Africa, the cradle of humanity and renowned for its wildlife. It could also be the origin of the next global pandemic. It’s long been known that people and animals living close together—well, that’s a recipe for disease. But exactly which diseases? And if new diseases are creeping into the system? Well, that’s something they’re trying to find out here in western Kenya. They’re called zoonotic diseases: infections that can jump from animals to people.

Eric Fevre
There are lots of zoonotic infections. In fact, about 60 per cent of all human diseases are of zoonotic origin.

NARRATION
So this team headed by Eric Fevre is taking a much closer look at the health of people and livestock in a densely populated region of western Kenya.

Eric Fevre
It seems to be obvious that zoonotic infections will occur more in people who keep livestock than in those who don’t. Whether that’s the case has never been formally established.

Lian Doble
If you look around here you don’t see the cattle in a field, in a fenced field or in a barn away from the people. Cattle are tethered within the compound that everybody’s working in, the chickens are loose around, going in and out of the houses. It’s a much more integrated system than anything we really see at home.

NARRATION
The kinds of problems that this environment creates are readily apparent.

Eric Fevre
We’re in a mixed crop-livestock production system where people are keeping a few animals. And as you can see behind me here, it’s the rainy season and people have recently planted their new crops. And this is an area of interaction between the croplands and the animals. And you can see behind over there behind those fields is some forest. And there might be a watercourse flowing through that forest, for example, where the animals are going to water. And that’s where the exciting things happen from a disease transmission point of view.

NARRATION
Part of the team focus on human health, taking a range of samples from people in the village as well as a detailed account of their medical history and current living situation. Meanwhile, others in the team have a look at the livestock.

Lian Doble
What we do know is that there are a large number of diseases that circulate between animals and humans. The problem is that a lot of these diseases cause signs which are very similar to other human diseases like malaria and human tuberculosis. What isn’t known is actually how many of the diseases that are mainly diagnosed as malaria actually are another disease caused by the pathogens found in cattle. So we’re just trying to find out what diseases she has and what are shared with the people that she lives with.

Paul Willis
And does she look healthy?

Lian Doble
She’s feisty and she’s quite healthy so we’ll see what she might have been carrying. And we can tell you later in the lab.

NARRATION
Samples are taken back to field laboratories in the town of Busia on the Ugandan border.

The ILRI-Wellcome Trust laboratory in Busia, Kenya

The ILRI-Wellcome Trust animal-human laboratory in Busia, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

Eric Fevre
In this place we’ve got a human and an animal lab next door where we process the material that comes in from the field. One of the things that we really need to do is look at fresh material. Because once the samples get a bit old, the parasites become a bit difficult to identify. And the second important thing is that we of course feed back to the participants of our study. So results that we get in the lab here are used directly by the clinicians working in the field to decide what treatments they should be giving people. So that’s one of the direct ways that our research project feeds back into the community.

NARRATION
This detailed look at the community health of a whole region is showing many expected results, and a few surprises.

Eric Fevre
One of the diseases that we’re testing for is brucellosis. And looking at the official reports there isn’t any brucellosis in this region. But we have detected brucellosis both in animals and in people and so already that’s what’s telling us that there are things circulating here that official records don’t pick up.

NARRATION
There seems to be a lot of malaria around, but Eric’s team are finding that many cases are masking something much more sinister.

Eric Fevre
Often it won’t be malaria. It will be something else. And there are a multitude of different pathogens that cause fever of the type that malaria also causes. And that’s a real problem. Because somebody with a low income might need to, say, sell one of their animals to then go to the clinic, get a diagnosis, buy some anti-malarial drugs. They don’t work because the person actually has sleeping sickness. So they go back to a different clinic. Or to a traditional healer. They get drugs that don’t work for the infection that they have. And so on and so on, five, six, seven times, travelling maybe ten kilometres each time. That’s a huge economic burden on them. And then finally they get properly diagnosed when they’re in the late stage of their infection. And it would have been much easier to treat them if they’d have been caught earlier on.

NARRATION
It’s a very complex picture that is emerging, one that could be simplified by some basic technology.

Lian Doble
Thirty per cent of our participants don’t have access to a latrine. You can imagine what that means. And that’s something that could be very actually quite easily sorted out with some education and some money and would sort out all sorts of other diarrhoeal diseases, which are one of the huge killers of young children in Africa.

Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub platform

One of the ultra-modern laboratories at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub ‘platform’ hosted and managed by ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/White).

NARRATION
Back in Nairobi another team is taking a different look at the spread of diseases across east Africa.

NARRATION
Appolinaire Djikeng heads up a team collecting samples of animals and people from a wide swath across Kenya.

Appolinaire Djikeng
So essentially at the moment we are trying to cover the east African region. But of course we would like to once we establish our processes and data management skills and data analysis skills we like to expand this to other parts of Africa.

NARRATION
The first step in the labs is to figure out exactly what spread of diseases are present in their samples.

Appolinaire Djikeng
You are able to go in there, look at the, the complex composition of the viruses, at the pathogens or at the small organisms that exist in them in doing it that way you are able to come up with a catalogue of potential organisms that exist in there.

NARRATION
And this analysis goes deep into the DNA of the viruses and pathogens that are found, tracking minute changes in their genetic make-up that allows Appolinaire’s team to follow the spread of individual strains of a disease.

Appolinaire Djikeng
We have a reasonably good bioinformatic infrastructure here for storing that data and extracting them, looking at specific parameters from that particular data base. With so many samples from such a wide geographical area and with so much information for each individual sample these guys are dealing with a lot of data and so they brought in four million bucks worth of computing grunt. With so many samples from such a wide geographic area and with so much information for each individual sample these guys are dealing with a lot of data. So they brought in four million bucks worth of computing grunt.

NARRATION
There are several teams looking at zoonotic diseases in Kenya, but the impact of their work is global.

Appolinaire Djikeng
The threat of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are no longer restricted to countries like central Africa or sub-Saharan Africa So I think now we have to put this work in the context of the global effort across the world. Trying to make sure that even remote parts of the area do have resources and capabilities to begin to do good and accurate diagnostics of what could be emerging.

Eric Fevre
We actually use the data that we gather to, to try and understand how these things are being transmitted, how the fact that your animal has this disease impacts on your risk at a population scale. And, and use that to then try and understand the, the process of transmission of these diseases.

Lian Doble
The next big disease problem is very likely to be a zoonotic disease so doing this sort of work and then leaving it isn’t an option. It needs to be ongoing and, and build. This is the start of something and we’ll build on it from here.

Download this Catalyst show from Australia’s ABC website (select ‘Zoonosis’ 10/3/2011).

And check out a blog by Paul Willis about the adventures of filming in Kenya’s border town of Busia: Coming to an end, 7 March 2011.

Here’s some of what Paul Willis has to say in his blog about this film project:
‘Busia is a hard place; a border crossing town riddled with grinding poverty and hard living. The main street, the only sealed road through town, is frequently clogged with a seemingly endless string of trucks waiting to cross the border into Uganda. Because Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are all landlocked nations, every drop of fuel and most freight coming into the country has to be trucked in from Mombasa and most of that comes through Busia. . . . This area of Kenya has some of the most intensively farmed land in East Africa. The whole landscape is divided into small plots with clusters of mud and thatch huts scattered among them. Here people live cheek-by-jowl with their crops and animals. It’s a recipe for diseases to jump from animals to people. Add strips of forested vegetation inhabited by a variety of monkeys and other native mammals and the chances of new diseases leaping into the human population goes up dramatically. We’re here to report on the work of a dedicated group trying to get a handle on exactly what diseases are in this chaotic system. It’s hard work, in one of the hotter areas of Kenya, and the study is spread over a huge area. . . .’

Seeing the beast whole: When holistic approaches ‘come out of Powerpoints’ for better health

Purvi Mehta, Capacity Strengthening Officer

Head of capacity strengthening ILRI, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt delivered a lively presentation yesterday in New Delhi explaining how capacity building is an ‘impact pathway’ linking agriculture, nutrition and health for human well being (photo credit: ILRI).

Yesterday in New Delhi, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head of Capacity Strengthening at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was one of three speakers to make a presentation during a side session at the international conference ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health’ being put on this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Saying it was ‘great to be home, in India’, Mehta-Bhatt, who is an Indian national based at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, started her 12-minute talk by getting down to basics—the basics of an elephant, that is. She told a ‘small story’ of an elephant that landed in a land where nobody had seen an elephant before. Everyone looked at this new beast in different ways, each seeing only a part of the animal. Even though all were looking at the same object, each interpreted the beast very differently, according to the small part they could see of it and according to their own interpretations. ‘This is pretty much the story of the three sectors we are talking about—agriculture, nutrition and health,’ said Mehta-Bhatt.  ‘We are all in our own silos’, she said, and need to see the beast whole.

Mehta-Bhatt sees capacity strengthening work as an important ‘impact pathway in linking these three sectors together’.

‘A piecemeal approach won’t work,’ she warned.  And although ‘this is nothing new’, she said, we still have limited capacity and understanding in this area, and only a few concrete case studies to show where linking different stakeholders in a health outcome has worked. As someone recently complained to her, it’s all very well talking about bringing all stakeholders together, but when has that ever ‘come out of Powerpoints’?

‘Capacity development is not just about training programs,’ says Mehta-Bhatt; ‘it goes beyond individual capacity building; it brings in systemic cognizance and impinges on institutional architecture, and all this happens in a process of co-learning, where messages are taken both from lab to land and from land to lab.’

Among ongoing ILRI initiatives that make use of multi-national, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral capacity building approaches are an ILRI-implemented Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health (PENAPH) with seven partners; a NEPAD-sponsored Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub facility managed by ILRI in Nairobi and hosting many students from the region; a Stone Mountain Global Capacity Development Group of 11 members that is mapping existing capacities in the field of ‘one-health’ and co-led by the University of Minnesota and ILRI; and an EcoZD project coordinated by ILRI that is taking ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in six countries of Southeast Asia and helping to set up two regional knowledge resource centres at universities in Indonesia and Thailand.

All of these projects, she explained, have capacity strengthening as a centrepiece; all are working with, and building on, what is already existing at the local and regional levels; and all are being conducted in a process of co-learning.

Mehta-Bhatt finished by finishing her elephant story. Capacity development, and collective action for capacity development, she said, can link the three sectors—agriculture, nutrition and health—allowing them not only ‘to recognize the elephant as a whole but to ride it as well.’

Watch the presentation by Purvi Mehta-Bhatt here:

US$32-million joint initiative to boost food production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia announced

Working in the maize field in Malawi

Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, like this woman in Malawi, will benefit from a US$32 million initiative that is supporting research to boost production of vital food crops (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Research funders from the United Kingdom, the United States and government departments from the United Kingdom and India have announced a UK£20 million (US$32 million) joint research initiative to relieve constraints to food production in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development program, which was announced on 11 January 2011, will fund research teams from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the UK working to improve the sustainable production of vital food crops. Funding will be awarded to teams that show their research can improve food security and increase crop yields within the next 5 to 10 years.

Food security is a key concern across the world as countries face the challenge of producing and supplying enough safe and nutritious food in sustainable ways for their growing populations. Climate change, urbanization and rising food prices also are reducing access to food by many of the world’s poor people in developing countries.

The program aims to establish mutually beneficial partnerships between researchers in the United Kingdom and developing countries through intellectual collaboration and also to enhance the scientific capabilities of its partners in the South.

A joint multi-national initiative of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Department for International Development, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC) in the USA, the Department of Biotechnology of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the program will focus on research conducted to counter the effects of stresses that are ‘abiotic’—e.g., drought, temperature, salinity, nutrient deficiencies—and/or biotic—e.g., pathogens, pests and weeds in nature—in nature.

The program is offering standard research grants for projects of up to five years led by a principal investigator from any eligible institution. The program is also funding ‘Projects for Emerging Agricultural Research Leaders’, in which some 5–10 grants of up to £2 million in total will be awarded to four-year projects whose principal investigator is an early- to mid-career scientist from a developing country of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia and employed in a national research program, institute or university.

Successful proposals will focus on biological or biotechnological research and are to be submitted by 31 March 2011.

The Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, a regionally shared research facility hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, invites African researchers and scientists interested in exploring use of the Hub for this project to contact Jagger Harvey (crop research and related microbes: j.harvey@cgiar.org) or Rob Skilton (livestock research and related microbes: r.skilton@cgiar.org).

‘I invite African scientists to take advantage of the world-class facilities that BecA offers to participate in this program,’ said Segenet Kelemu, the Director of the BecA Hub. She notes that ‘the Hub is open for use by researchers focused on African agricultural improvement and is an excellent facility for use by those engaged in research initiatives to improve Africa’s food security.’

The BecA Hub provides a common biosciences research platform, research-related services and capacity building opportunities to the region and beyond. The Hub aims to increase access to affordable, world-class research facilities and to create and strengthen human resources in biosciences and related disciplines in Africa.

If you would like to be included in an open-access database of scientists interested in African agricultural improvement—which is managed by the Hub, funded by the Gates Foundation and designed for use by scientists, donor representatives and others—please contact the Hub’s communications officer Jane Hawtin: j.hawtin@cgiar.org. You can also visit the BecA Hub website: http://hub.africabiosciences.org.

____

For more information see

http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2011/110111-pr-developing-countries.aspx and  http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/opportunities/2011/1103-sustainable-crop-production-international.aspx

Biosciences in and for Africa: A round-up of reports about the official opening of Nairobi’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

10BecA_Opening

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki receives flowers from Renee Njunge on his arrival at ILRI for the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub on 5 November 2010. Looking on is Beth Mugo, the minister for public health and sanitation (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).

On 5 November 2010, Kenya President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, a world-class biosciences research facility based in Africa and working for Africa.

Located at, and managed by, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, the BecA Hub provides a common biosciences research platform and related services and capacity-building to the science community in Africa and beyond.

The laboratory facility at the Hub brings to par Africa’s research capability with that of the world’s most developed countries. Africa’s scientists, students and global partners can now conduct advanced biosciences research, and get advanced training in biosciences, without leaving the continent. The Hub is a focal point for the African agricultural research community and its global partners.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of an African Biosciences Initiative of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This initiative was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology in Africa and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme.

The Hub is supported by many partners and donors. The Canadian International Development Agency funded renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus as well as construction of new facilities. The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is helping to fund the BecA Hub’s operations through 2014. Other investors are supporting specific research and training projects at the Hub.

The official opening at ILRI brought together government officials, donor representatives, researchers and the local community in a colourful celebration of the contributions agricultural research is making in addressing some of Africa’s most pressing problems.

For more information about the BecA Hub, visit hub.africabiosciences.org and www.ilri.org or email BecA-Hub@cgiar.org.

Watch a short video film about what young students and scientists think about working at the Hub: ‘The BecA Hub at ILRI—A new research facility in Africa and for Africa’.

Watch a 5-minute photofilm that captures the main messages and spirit of the opening ceremony last November (2010): ‘Opening ceremony – Biosciences eastern and central Africa research facilities’

See photographs of the opening ceremony on ILRI’s Flickr page: ‘2010 BecA Hub Opening’.

Read articles that appeared in the media about the opening:
Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI
New law to promote agricultural development, says Kibaki
New laws key in war on hunger: Kibaki

Listen to three of the speeches made at the opening ceremony:
Carlos Seré on the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
NEPAD welcomes opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
Canadian High Commissioner celebrates birth of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock

Mozambique, Gurue District, Lhate Village

Widowed farmer Maria Ngove feeds a goat at her home in Lhate Village, Mozambique. African veterinary service leaders and animal health workers recently adopted a new strategy to manage peste des petits ruminants, a disease that is increasingly threatening Africa's small ruminants. (Photo credit: ILRI/Mann) 

The recent announcement by the global scientific community of what is expected to be a successful worldwide eradication of rinderpest is providing a renewed drive to African animal health researchers to focus on ways of controlling its cousin, peste des petits ruminants, a similar disease that is increasingly threatening Africa’s small ruminant populations.

African veterinary service leaders and animal health workers last week (17 November 2010) adopted a new strategy for managing this viral disease of sheep and goats following an emergency meeting in Nairobi called to find ways to best tackle the threat of the disease. A strategy for controlling the disease will be rolled out in coming months to, among other aims, help prevent the spread of the disease into southern Africa following recent confirmation of its spread into southern Tanzania.

Participants at the one-day meeting discussed a ‘Pan-African strategy for the progressive control of peste des petits ruminants’, which has been jointly developed by the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Representatives of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, chief veterinary officers from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as representatives of national animal research centres from the region, attended the meeting.

The meeting sought to harmonize on-going control efforts in a shared strategy under the continental umbrella of AU-IBAR that would enable implementation of a ‘coordinated approach’ of dealing with this disease of small stock across Africa.

‘Peste des petits ruminants is causing significant economic impact on Africa’s people by constraining the livelihoods and endangering the food security of the poor and marginalized members of society, who rely on small ruminants for food and income; we are concerned about stopping its further spread southwards,’ said Ahmed El-Sawalhy, director of AU-IBAR.

Also known as ‘small ruminant plague’, this disease has killed great numbers of sheep and goats in Africa since it was first reported in West Africa in 1942. Since then, the disease has spread from localized areas to affect most of western and eastern Africa, and is now threatening herds in the southern areas of the continent.

Recent major outbreaks of the disease in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have killed millions of small stock, hurting the livelihoods of farmers. The disease has also been reported in Morocco, from where it threatens southern Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and China.

Small ruminants are ready sources of food and cash for women and disadvantaged households and are an important means of rebuilding herds after environmental and political shocks, especially in herding communities.

Unless coordinated action is taken to control the spread of the disease, small ruminant plague is likely to spread to most of Africa, bringing with it untold losses of livestock and endangering the livelihoods of millions of African farmers and herders.

‘We are looking for a regional approach to deal with this plague and right now we are working with 13 countries that are either affected by the disease or are located in high-risk areas. We also want to mobilize resources to support the tools we already have in order to maintain the momentum that has resulted from the eradication of rinderpest,’ said El-Sawalhy.

Already, there are on-going initiatives in countries where the disease is confirmed–supported by AU-IBAR, national governments and other partners–that are helping to deal with the impacts of small ruminant plague and support affected livestock herders. The new strategy seeks to consolidate these efforts into a harmonized AU-IBAR-led effort that will ensure standardized approaches are used to control the disease in affected countries and to prevent its spread to new areas. 

AU-IBAR is encouraging the setting up of emergency measures for dealing with the disease’s spread in southern Africa. These measures include working with national governments and research institutions to map out high-risk areas in countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia that border areas affected by the latest outbreaks, providing adequate vaccine stocks and making contingency funds available for targeted emergency vaccinations.

In the long-term, this new strategy seeks to eradicate small ruminant plague from Africa.

‘This is an important disease and we are confident to undertake the fight against it and eventually eradicate it from Africa,’ said Jeffrey Mariner, a scientist with ILRI who is leading ILRI’s research efforts on PPR. ‘One of the lessons from programs to eradicate rinderpest from Africa is that the AU-IBAR and the African veterinary services have the capacity to coordinate disease control operations successfully. Investments in a program for the progressive control of small ruminant plague will be well spent.’

An ILRI-hosted and managed Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub is currently implementing a project, funded by the Australian Commonwealth, Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation, to develop a standardized thermostable vaccine against this plague that incorporates the vaccine strain already used to vaccinate against the disease in Africa.

‘We will also be evaluating vaccination service delivery systems based on public-private-community partnerships that build on experiences from the rinderpest eradication campaign,’ Mariner said. ‘The overall objective is to establish sustainable vaccination service models that make reliable and affordable control services available to farmers throughout the remote pastoral regions of Africa.’

‘The existing technical tools and animal health systems provide a solid foundation for initiating progressive control operations of this disease of small ruminants,’ said Dickens Chibeu, the acting chief animal health officer at AU-IBAR who also chaired the meeting. ‘Coordinated long-term action will add value to already on-going interventions that are helping to limit the immediate impact of the disease,’ he said.

AU-IBAR and ILRI are hoping to garner international donor support of national governments and research institutions for a well-coordinated effort that will support current initiatives by national governments in affected countries. ‘We are encouraging countries in southern Africa to initiate surveillance for the disease and to ensure preparedness in case of outbreaks. On our part, we are working to ensure the availability of emergency vaccine stocks as we bring together all partners involved and affected by this disease in a continent-wide strategy that will ensure we use the same strategy,’ said Dr.Chibeu.

—-

This article was also published in the AU-IBAR website: http://www.au-ibar.org/index.php?option=com_flexicontent&view=items&id=224

For more information on peste de petits ruminants, visit the following links:

http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/003/X1703E/X1703E00.HTM

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/56100.htm

Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI

10BecA_Opening_CarlosSereBruceScottRomanoKiome

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI; Bruce Scott, director of Partnerships and Communications at ILRI; and Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture; in discussion at the official opening of BecA at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Following are key highlights from speeches read on Friday 5 November 2010 during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, which is hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at its Nairobi headquarters and laboratories.

Mohammed Kuti, Kenya’s Minister for Livestock Development said ‘Kenya is proud to host BecA, a modern research facility for sub-Sahara Africa. I am gratified to learn that this facility has adopted an integrated research approach, using biosciences to address animal and plant research, human health as well as the sustainable use of Africa’s natural resources.’

His Excellency, David Collins, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya said ‘Canada is pleased to celebrate the achievements that have been made in establishing this particular centre of excellence in bioscience in agriculture.

‘In May 2003, Canada announced a contribution of C$30 million to establish the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) initiative in Kenya. BecA is the first of four networks of centres of excellence across Africa to strengthen Africa’s scientific and technological development. It allows eastern and central African countries to develop and apply bioscience research and expertise.’

‘BecA,’ said Collins, ‘is conducting important research that will help address key agricultural issues, including those facing small-scale African farmers, the majority of whom are women.’

He said Canada’s investment in BecA has supported the construction of new facilities and the renovation of existing facilities, including laboratories. With the completion of construction, the Hub is now in full operation, with a number of significant research programs under way, and quickly gaining regional and international recognition as a world-class facility to support capacity for biosciences in Africa.

‘The hub will enable African scientists and researchers play a major role in helping Africa meet its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as a more productive and profitable agricultural sector is a critical component in the successful attainment of the MDGs,’ he added.

‘It is exciting to see the birth of a hub that will play a key role in ensuring that Africa drives its own agenda in regards to agriculture and strengthens the research pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.’ Collins said.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, made the following remarks (full text).

‘It is indeed a very special honour to welcome you to the ILRI campus on the occasion of the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub.

‘Your Excellency, the statue you have just unveiled is an artistic representation of the double helix. The double helix is the recipe for life. Its chains of molecules, the DNA, encode the information that determines the inheritance shaping all living beings: plants, animals and microbes. This beautiful piece of art, produced here in Kenya, very aptly represents what BecA is about: understanding this code of life and using this knowledge to develop novel solutions such as livestock vaccines and improved crops.’

‘Much of this cutting-edge science could up to now only be undertaken in developed countries. The BecA-ILRI Hub now enables scientists from research institutions and universities across eastern and central Africa to come to Nairobi and undertake critical parts of their research with new tools and with support from colleagues with the requisite training and experience.’

‘How did this come about? NEPAD’s Science and Technology program and ILRI approached the Government of Canada in 2002 with a plan to refurbish ILRI’s laboratories and have ILRI provide, on behalf of NEPAD, a shared biosciences platform to provide African scientists with access to the most advanced facilities and equipment to conduct biosciences research of strategic importance for Africa’s development. This Hub forms part of NEPAD’s African Biosciences Initiative, which is creating a continent-wide network of shared biosciences research facilities.’

‘ILRI’s board of trustees and management team saw this as a logical evolution in its contribution to the continent’s development, responding on the one hand to the urgent need to boost biosciences capacity on the continent and on the other to the advantages of sharing such facilities. This is further driven by the fact that all agricultural research builds on the shared basic knowledge of biology, which underpins work in plants, animals and microbes. BecA is about exploiting this common body of knowledge to leapfrog the search for solutions. This is BecA’s unique contribution to Africa’s science endeavour.’

‘Beyond supporting the global community’s agenda of using livestock and livestock innovations as a pathway out of poverty, ILRI agreed to share its facilities with a wider array of African and international partners to better utilize this power of modern biosciences.’

‘Today we are witnessing the realization of that shared dream. Your Excellency, the strong support of the Kenyan Government to ILRI over the years has been critical to making this happen. Dr Romano Kiome, your Permanent Secretary of Agriculture and ILRI board member, passionately supported this initiaitive in its early days and chaired its first steering committee. Similarly, the financial and technical support of the Government of Canada  and many other development partners was absolutely critical. NEPAD’s vision and leadership in driving a continent-wide strategy for science and technology as a key building block for Africa’s development provided a strong case for creating BecA.

‘It is widely recognized that partnerships are critical to achieving significant impacts on the ground at the required speed. BecA is an innovative and complex partnership and a new way of operating across the boundaries of organizations. We are committed to working with all of you to make it flourish. To turn science into products for Africa, we will need to reach out to an even more diverse range of partners in the coming years. We thank your Excellency and the many other people and institutions who contributed to make BecA a reality.’

‘Your Excellency, this is a unique moment in history; Africa’s economy is growing faster than that of most Western economies. At the same time, we all know that there are serious concerns for food security globally and particularly on this continent. The BecA facility you are about to open today will deliver key elements to respond to the urgent demand for drastically increased agricultural productivity. It will provide practical hands-on experience in advanced biosciences to the next generation of African scientists. It will enable a wide range of African institutions, from research centres to universities to private-sector companies, to develop the technological solutions for today and tomorrow. We know there is a revolution going on in the biosciences worldwide. What has been lacking till now is effective grounding of this science in African realities. This will be done by Africans in Africa fully engaged in the global science community.’

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the BecA-Hub at ILRI on Friday 5 November. Read key highlights from the president’s speech on the following link: http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/kenya-president-mwai-kibaki-officially-opens-state-of-the-art-biosciences-facilities-at-ilris-nairobi-campus/

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The facilities are now complete and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

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For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Inauguration of a new forage diversity lab at the International Livestock Research Institute in Ethiopia

A new forage diversity lab was inaugurated yesterday afternoon, Monday 12th April 2010, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the presence of the ILRI board members, the forage diversity staff and guests. Jean Hanson, forage diversity leader, looked pleased at the result, and with emotion she spoke of the lab achievement. “It is an ILRI Ethiopia lab” she said, “it will give us and students much more space to work and has now allowed all the equipment that was previously scattered to be centralised. This will also help us and our National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) partners to be cost effective.” The construction work started in December 2008 and the building was actually ready for the board meeting which took place in Addis in November 2009. The finishing touches, supervised by Jean Hanson, were added and the spotless lab is now ready to use. Prior to the visit to the lab by participants of the inauguration, was a very symbolic planting of two Acacia Tortilis trees which will, in a few years, give shade to the molecular lab. The Chairman of the board, Knut Hove, put on his gardening gloves and efficiently planted this indigenous, dry land tree, commenting that it was “the best possible tree we could have for this lab”. Dr Hanson then emphasized that the genebank not only works on conservation of forage diversity but also on improved use of diversity for better forages which requires more molecular work with newer techniques. “The lab will allow us to work more with our sister centers of the CGIAR”, she stated, “and the nicest thing would be to bring a group of students together, who will energize the group, emulate each other, share and learn, because a major role of CG centers is capacity building.” According to Dr Ananda Ponniah, in charge of capacity strengthening at ILRI, “there is now space for more students and therefore we can also diversify students, have them coming from Ethiopia but other countries as well.” After the official cutting of the ribbon by Knut Hove and applause, the visit was led by Janice Proud, Project coordinator of the Napier grass smut and stunt resistance project, and Alexandra Jorge, Global Public Goods Project Coordinator (SGRP/CGIAR). Janice Proud explained how the new lab would help the work on Napier grass diseases, smut and stunt, which cause feed loss in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “The new facility will allow us to use PCR techniques in real time. We also have some students looking at milk proteins. The beauty of a molecular lab is that you can use it for different projects”, she concluded. Alexandra Jorge talked about tissue culture and how the space would now allow the Centre “to have one dedicated area for tissue culture and therefore avoid contamination”. She also feels that the new lab will help to link better with ongoing projects such as the Napier grass project because “vegetatively-propagated crops like Napier grass can greatly benefit from production of clean plants and distribution of in vitro materials”. “We hope that a lot of publications will follow!” added the Chairman of the board. Mr Traoré, board member, also expressed that “the lab nicely complements BeCA (Biosciences eastern and central Africa) in Nairobi. Students in Ethiopia will be able to do the preliminaries here then go to BecA to make use of more sophisticated equipment.” As a final word, the board Chair summed up the achievement by stating that “the whole building smelled of a brand new lab which is exciting for new students to come and work, get their hands dirty and green!”

‘Voices of Change’: Redesigning international agricultural research for a new world

Over the past 40 years, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has helped provide small-scale farmers in poor countries with new options that allow them to escape poverty.

In this short film, Voices of Change, CGIAR members and other stakeholders in agricultural research for development come together to speak about the changes needed to meet the world’s new challenges and opportunities.

‘We need to strengthen agricultural institutions and policies around the world,’ stresses Carlos Seré, the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ‘More and more people are falling into poverty traps with little or no hope for the future,’ he argues. ‘There is need for change, for scientists to unite in a shared vision of what they can accomplish by working closer together.’

‘We need to do more and we need to do it better,’ agrees Jagger Harvey, a plant researcher working with Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, a new regional research platform based at ILRI’s Nairobi campus. This BecA-ILRI Hub brings together scientists from all over the region, who share the use of BecA’s state-of-the-art biosciences facilities.Such shared research platforms are part of the new future the CGIAR and its many partners around the world are designing. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5oLR5etKy8&feature=fvst[/youtube]

Swedish International Development Agency grants US$10.67 million to improve African bioscience


Virus greenhouse at the ILRI Addis

Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) announce USD10.67 million grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) today announced a SEK80 million (USD10.67 million) grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) to support the set up of a multidisciplinary competitive funding mechanism for  biosciences and product-oriented innovation activities in eastern Africa (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).

The Bio-Innovate Program will focus on delivering new products through bioscience innovation systems involving a broad sector of actors, including scientists, the private sector, NGOs and other practitioners. The program will use modern bioscience to improve crop productivity and resilience to climate change in small-scale farming systems, and improve the efficiency of the agro-processing industry to add value to local bio-resources in a sustainable manner. Bio-Innovate will be user-, market- and development-oriented in order to make a difference on the ground in poverty alleviation and sustainable economic growth.

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says: “African governments have recognized the importance of regional collaboration in science and technology to enable the continent to adapt the rapid advances and promises of modern biosciences. In 2005, under the auspices of the Africa Union (AU) and NEPAD, African countries designed and adopted Africa´s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA). The plan puts emphasis on improving the quality of African science, technology and innovation through regional networking and developing more appropriate policies. Biotechnology and biosciences are prioritized areas in the plan, as has been demonstrated by the work of a high-level AU/NEPAD African Panel on Biotechnology, whose findings are in the publication Freedom to Innovate—Biotechnology in Africa´s Development.”

An Africa-based and Africa-led initiative, Bio-Innovate will draw upon existing expertise and resources from Africa, while forming connections with both African and global institutions to add value to Africa’s natural resources and develop sound policies for commercializing products from biosciences research.

Bio-Innovate builds on the achievements of the BIO-EARN program funded by Sida from 1999 to 2009 and has been developed by a team appointed by BIO-EARN governing board. “The program will benefit a lot from the facilities available at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub”, says Hassan Mshinda, Chair of the BIO-EARN Governing Board.

“We recognize the importance of the Bio-Innovate initiative to complement and strengthen the biosciences research in eastern and central Africa,” says Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI. “We appreciate the support from Sida and are convinced that this innovative program will strengthen Africa’s capacity in using biotechnology for economic development.”

“Sida sees the Bio-Innovate Program as an important platform for pooling eastern African expertise through a regional bioscience innovation network, enabling cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary R&D and policy and sustainability analysis. The Bio-Innovate Program will be integrated into ongoing regional programs and structures and promote bioscience innovation in support of sustainable development in the region”, says Gity Behravan, Senior Research Advisor at Sida.

Notes:
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD): The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a socioeconomic development program of the African Union (AU).  The objective of NEPAD is to stimulate Africa’s development by filling gaps in agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, science and technology. NEPAD explicitly recognizes that life sciences and biotechnology offer enormous potential for improving Africa’s development. Through NEPAD, African countries have committed themselves to establish networks of centres of excellence in biosciences. Four sub-regional networks have been established: the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Network (BecANet), the West Africa Biosciences Network (WABNet) and the North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet). A recent AU decision to integrate NEPAD into structures and processes of the AU gives the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) the mandate to facilitate, coordinate and implement the NEPAD agenda.

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): The Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has its headquarters in Kenya and a principal campus in Ethiopia. It also has teams working out of offices in Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and China. ILRI hosts the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at the invitation of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD), as part of the AU/NEPAD’s Africa Biosciences Initiative. The BecA Hub is part of a shared research platform on the ILRI campus in Nairobi. The BecA Hub has been established over the past two years, with strong support from the Government of Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and ILRI. For more information, please visit our website: www.ilri.org